N RECENT WEEKS, we have looked at some key elements of the 2007 US Bishop’s document Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (STTL), namely the hierarchy of the parts of the mass to be sung and the principle of Progressive Solemnity.
Today, we will look at what is arguably the “heart and soul” of the document: Judging the Qualities of Music for the Liturgy: The Three Judgments: One Evaluation. If there is any one section of STTL to become very familiar with, it is this one, and for rather intriguing reasons.
STTL was written to replace two previous documents: Music in Catholic Worship (MCW) (1972, second edition 1983) and Liturgical Music Today (LMT) (1982). Although STTL was approved by 88 percent of the bishops, we are reminded that they did not attempt to seek Vatican approval, which would have granted STTL the authority of binding liturgical law. To not seek approval is rather telling that there was perhaps a hesitant commitment to its content. Also telling is that STTL consistently contains elements that will please most everyone (which perhaps pleases no one). It puts forth a “both/and” philosophy, presenting both the ideal and the alternative as acceptable.
However, it is also important to note that STTL quite frequently points back to the GIRM and the Vatican II Documents, which do constitute binding liturgical law. (As such it is important to observe the footnotes, and as we will see here, rather carefully!)
So, why is the section Three Judgments: One Evaluation the “heart and soul” of this document? Why is it so noteworthy? Given the lack of the overall consensus on the document, it is significant to note that this section remained rather intact, (although streamlined), from the original in Music in Catholic Worship. (1972, 1983) That some rather strong language from 1972 remains intact is most certainly worth noting! On this point, there must have been clear consensus form the bishops.
These three judgments 1) Liturgical 2) Pastoral 3) Musical—are a bit like a “trinity”—three judgments, but one decision!
126. In judging the appropriateness of music for the Liturgy, one will examine its liturgical, pastoral, and musical qualities. Ultimately, however, these three judgments are but aspects of one evaluation, which answers the question: “Is this particular piece of music appropriate for this use in the particular Liturgy?” All three judgments must be considered together, and no individual judgment can be applied in isolation from the other two. This evaluation requires cooperation, consultation, collaboration, and mutual respect among those who are skilled in any of the three judgments, be they pastors, musicians, liturgists, or planners.
Note that in The Liturgical Judgment, the text and structure of the particular Rite at hand is preeminent:
The Liturgical Judgment
127. The question asked by this judgment may be stated as follows: Is this composition capable of meeting the structural and textual requirements set forth by the liturgical books for this particular rite?
128. Structural considerations depend on the demands of the rite itself to guide the choice of parts to be sung, taking into account the principle of progressive solemnity (see nos. 110ff. in this document). A certain balance among the various elements of the Liturgy should be sought, so that less important elements do not overshadow more important ones. Textual elements include the ability of a musical setting to support the liturgical text and to convey meaning faithful to the teaching of the Church…
The structural requirements in part, must consider the liturgical action the music accompanies. It is very important to consider if the music properly accompanies and carries the weight of the liturgical action. To this end, note the importance of progressive solemnity. Furthermore, liturgical action is a subject altogether most important in this decision.
Unlike the Liturgical Judgment, the Pastoral Judgment must consider a myriad of extremely subjective, personal, and potentially unknown factors, yet keeping in the mind the goal to “strengthen their formation in faith…”
The Pastoral Judgment
130. The pastoral judgment takes into consideration the actual community gathered to celebrate in a particular place at a particular time. Does a musical composition promote the sanctification of the members of the liturgical assembly by drawing them closer to the holy mysteries being celebrated? Does it strengthen their formation in faith by opening their hearts to the mystery being celebrated on this occasion or in this season? Is it capable of expressing the faith that God has planted in their hearts and summoned them to celebrate?
131. In the dioceses of the United States of America today, liturgical assemblies are composed of people of many different nations. Such peoples often “have their own musical tradition, and this plays a great part in their religious and social life. For this reason their music should be held in proper esteem and a suitable place is to be given to it, not only in forming their religious sense but also in adapting worship to their native genius. . . .” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 116 — *Note, this section of S.C. was not specific to the United States, but to “…certain parts of the world, especially mission lands, there are peoples who have their own musical traditions…” To be fair, the United States continues towards a trend of diversity, not homogenization. How to reconcile this with the hermeneutic of continuity in Church teaching? This is a question for another day, and perhaps part of the Pastoral Judgment to “strengthen their formation in faith” —RJC)
132. Other factors—such as the age, culture, language, and education of a given liturgical assembly—must also be considered. Particular musical forms and the choice of individual compositions for congregational participation will often depend on those ways in which a particular group finds it easiest to join their hearts and minds to the liturgical action. Similarly, the musical experience of a given liturgical assembly is to be carefully considered, lest forms of musical expression that are alien to their way of worshiping be introduced precipitously. On the other hand, one should never underestimate the ability of persons of all ages, cultures, languages, and levels of education to learn something new and to understand things that are properly and thoroughly introduced.
133. The pastoral question, finally, is always the same: Will this composition draw this particular people closer to the mystery of Christ, which is at the heart of this liturgical celebration?
Finally, The Musical Judgment shares with The Pastoral Judgment the distinction of being highly subjective in what is of value and what is important. This section also retains and reserves some of the harshest and most pointed words with regard to judging what music is valuable.
The Musical Judgment
134. The musical judgment asks whether this composition has the necessary aesthetic qualities that can bear the weight of the mysteries celebrated in the Liturgy. It asks the question: Is this composition technically, aesthetically, and expressively worthy?
135. This judgment requires musical competence. Only artistically sound music will be effective and endure over time. To admit to the Liturgy the cheap, the trite, or the musical cliché often found in secular popular songs is to cheapen the Liturgy, to expose it to ridicule, and to invite failure.
STTL continues by making the important distinction between style and judgment, i.e., do not confuse style with value. While this is a very important distinction, it is unfortunate that STTL makes this point by inappropriately misusing a quote from Sacrosanctum Concilium:
136. Sufficiency of artistic expression, however, is not the same as musical style, for “the Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her own. She has admitted styles from every period, in keeping with the natural characteristics and conditions of peoples and the needs of the various rites.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 123) (I am hardly the first to note that this reference is taken from Chapter VII, the SACRED ART AND SACRED FURNISHINGS section of Sacrosanctum Concilium, and not from Chapter VI. the SACRED MUSIC section. —RJC)
Dr. Mahrt states quite emphatically the inappropriate use of this quote from SC in his article A Critique of Sing to the Lord:
“The discussion of the musical judgment is concluded by a serious misquotation of the Second Vatican Council. “The church has not adopted any particular style of art as her own” (SC ¶123), concluding that the church freely welcomes various styles of music to the liturgy. There are two things wrong with this statement: it comes from the chapter on sacred art and was said about art and architecture. The church has not adopted Romanesque or Gothic or any other style as canonical, but when it comes to music, the church has acknowledged the priority of Gregorian chant and to a lesser degree polyphony. These are styles and they do have priority.)”
STTL continues: “Thus, in recent times, the Church has consistently recognized and freely welcomed the use of various styles of music as an aid to liturgical worship.”
There is much to absorb and discuss here! In any case, the guideline of The Three Judgments: One Evaluation has enormous wisdom and value regardless of one’s outlook on the particulars as outlined by STTL. While not “binding liturgical law” this particular section exudes the natural authority of common sense. If applied with honesty and with unity of three judgments as intended, the sacred liturgy would be greatly served.